Olecranon Bursa Aspiration: Technique & Complications

Olecranon Bursitis, or elbow bursitis, is the inflammation of small sacs of fluid at the back of the elbow (or bursa), causing a bump. The bursa is found around the joints to facilitate smooth movement between the bones. This condition is also known as Popeye elbow because of how the elbow bump juts out like the elbow of the cartoon character Popeye.


The most common cause of Olecranon Bursitis is inflammation from pressure on the bursa or from inflammatory conditions. It can also be caused by a sudden blow or injury on the elbow, leading to fluid buildup or bleeding. Infection in tissue near to the bursa could also spread to the bursa, causing inflammation. A blood-borne infection is also a possible cause, though it’s a rare condition.


Some of the symptoms of Olecranon Bursitis include experience pain when moving the elbow or when pressure is applied. The back of elbow might swell and form a lump from the fluid buildup and tender when touched. The patient affected might run a fever, get redness around the back of the elbow, breaks in the skin around the swell and lymph nodes in the armpits.

Treatment Technique

To treat a serious condition of Olecranon Bursitis, excess fluid may have to be drained from the bursa by inserting a needle and aspirating the fluid. The elbow is first placed in a 90 degrees position and the patient is asked to relax. The fluid is easier to drain when the patient is relaxed. The doctor would first aspirate to ensure that the needle is not in a blood vessel. Then the injection would be applied on the lateral side of the elbow, in the head of the elbow radius. After this is done, medicine is injected to decrease inflammation.

For treatment of infected bursitis, repeated drainage of the fluid is required and antibiotics are prescribed. Sometimes, the infected bursa may have to be completely removed with a surgical procedure.


Certain risks are involved when using the joint aspiration technique. Patient may experience infections such as Septicaemia and Osteomyelitis. Persistent pain may occur followed by decreased functional use of the elbow. The affected area may also experience skin atrophy, with the sign of sensitive skin that is prone to tears.

Prevention & Care

Patient should avoid excessive pressure on the elbow after the procedure and to avoid any elbow movements. However, wearing a compressive elbow sleeve would be good to give it just the right pressure to prevent bursa fluid from building up again. Make sure that the elbow does not go through any further trauma.

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